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When old faithful appears in your front lawn.

When Old Faithful appears in your front lawn

At first glance, sprinkler problems may seem intimidating. But you can do many simple repairs without calling in a specialist; broken or clogged heads are easily fixed with the use of common, inexpensive tools. The photographs on these four pages will help you identify and fix basic problems that can disrupt a typical garden system.

To make sure lawn and plants continue to thrive during hot summer months--and to make efficient use of water--check your irrigation system once a month during the season. Look for broken, clogged, and leaking heads and poor spray patterns. If the sprinklers are exposed to high traffic, car tires, lawn mowers, or other equipment that can knock heads out of adjustment or break them, check them weekly.

Stores that specialize in irrigation equipment carry high-quality replacement parts. But you need to know what kind of sprinklers you have (see the photograph at right to learn how to identify a sprinkler head); if there's any confusion, take the head with you to the store.

For more difficult repairs, such as broken underground pipe and electrical problems on automatic systems, it may be necessary to call in a specialist.

Check the system for broken sprinklers

Even obvious problems, such as broken heads, sometimes go unnoticed because the system is on an automatic timer that waters early in the morning. Turn on the system and watch for heads or risers (vertical lengths of pipe below the heads) that have water streaming or gushing out of them. If the head or nozzle feels loose, tighten it.

Replace sprinklers or risers that are bent, broken, or missing. Remove sprinkler heads with a wrench, as pictured at left. When you purchase a head wrench, buy one that's the same brand as your sprinklers to ensure proper fit--or buy an adjustable "universal' head wrench.

Old brass heads are sometimes difficult to remove. For more leverage, slip a pipe over the narrow end of the head wrench. When you unscrew the head, try not to remove the threaded nipple that sits underground between the head and the water line. If you sense the nipple is turning when you're unscrewing the head, remove enough soil so you can hold the nipple with pliers or a pipe wrench. If the head has rusted onto the nipple and you can't separate them, replace both parts.

To avoid getting dirt in the irrigation pipe, remove heads carefully. If the surrounding soil is dry, wet it so it doesn't crumble into the hole. Dig out around the head if the soil doesn't hold together or if water from the sprinkler line starts to flood the area.

Bits of soil may still drop inside and clog sprinklers, especially brass heads. If the new head sprays unevenly, flush the line as shown on page 243. Since dirt can travel through the pipe, you may also have to flush other brass heads if they get clogged down the line.

To fix a broken riser, unscrew it from the line and replace it (use Teflon tape for galvanized pipe connections). If the riser broke off inside the water line, leaving a small piece that's difficult to get out, use a special tool called a stub wrench to remove plastic risers or a screw extractor ("easy out') to remove galvanized pipe.

When replacing a broken riser that's in a high-traffic area, as along a path, it's wise to add a flexible rubber extension riser, as pictured below. If the sprinkler is bumped, it will move rather than break.

Look for clogged or bubbling sprinklers

Since they don't have filters, brass sprinklers tend to clog frequently. Soil, mineral deposits, earwigs, and other insects and debris collect in the slit or holes where water emerges. Several times during the season, check heads for uneven spray patterns while the system is on. Clean slits with a knife as shown on opposite page.

Flood and stream bubbler heads have small openings that can't be cleared with a knife blade. You may be able to clean flood bubblers by opening the adjusting screw to full flow. Otherwise, unscrew the heads and clean under running water. If plastic heads are spraying erratically, clean the filters and clear the openings.

With pop-up brass heads, debris can also collect around the wiper seal on the stem. This may prevent the head from sealing; water will then squirt or bubble out around the base, and the spray will be weak, as in the picture at upper left. Clean the seal or replace the head.

If this problem develops on several heads near one another, there may be too many sprinklers on the line. Or the water pressure may be too low to lift and seal them; brass heads, which need high water pressure, are especially susceptible. You may have to replace the brass heads with low-pressure plastic heads--or call in an irrigation specialist.

Inspect sprinkler patterns and water distribution

Depending on the time of day your system is on, water pressure will vary and affect distribution from the sprinklers. Check your system at the time you normally use it. If it's normally turned on by an automatic timer at 6 A.M., check it then.

While the system is on, look at sprinkler patterns. Make sure the spray from each head isn't blocked by tall grass or plants. Old lawns often gain several inches of height because of thatch buildup. If the head sits so low the spray is blocked, change it to a pop-up if it's a stationary type, or add a riser extension (see photographs on facing page). Also, keep grass clipped down from around heads.

Sprinklers in shrubs and ground covers are often installed too low to spray over mature plants. To improve coverage, add a coupling and riser (see photograph below left).

You get the best coverage when the spray from one head reaches all the way to the adjoining head. If the overlap is poor, brown patches will eventually show up in the lawn and plants will start dying. Pop-up brass and plastic heads usually have a small screw on top to adjust the flow of water; to increase the radius of the spray, use a small (1/8-inch-wide) screwdriver and turn the screw counterclockwise.

If the screw is already fully open, replace the head with one that has a larger radius, as indicated on the head. For instance, a head stamped with the number 12 has a maximum radius of 12 feet. Replace it with one that has at least a 15-foot radius.

When a sprinkler is overshooting an area, reduce the flow of water by turning the screw clockwise. But don't try to reduce the radius by more than 25 percent. If necessary, replace the nozzle with the next smaller size.

Lawn browning and dieback may also occur if the head puts out the wrong spray pattern for the area. Sprinkler head patterns range in size from quarter circle to full circle, including strip sprays for long, narrow beds. The pattern of the head is identified by letters (H for half, TT for two-thirds) or numbers (1/4, 1/2). Plastic heads may also have score marks.

The photograph at top right on the facing page shows a quarter-circle stationary brass head that didn't fully cover the area of lawn around it. Changing to a half-circle pop-up corrected the problem. If it had already been a pop-up head, only the nozzle would need to be changed.

After you've repaired the major and minor problems on your system, check the heads along the perimeter of the lawn and planting beds to make sure they're aimed in the right direction. If any of them are spraying off-center, gently turn the heads or nozzles with a head wrench or pliers until they're lined up.

Table: How to understand and "read' a sprinkler head

Photo: Water streams from brass sprinkler after its nozzle was broken off. Use a head wrench to remove and replace broken sprinkler head

Photo: Unscrew damaged plastic lawn sprinkler (moisten soil first so it won't cave in). Use widemouth pliers to install new one

Photo: Immune to three-wheeled hazards, flexible rubber riser sits between the water line and plastic riser, allows sprinkler to bend on impact rather than break

Photo: Head bubbles or squirts at base

Tap nozzle to clear debris from stem. If it still doesn't seal, remove head and clean

Replace head if rubber wiper seal on end of sprinkler stem is missing or damaged

Photo: Grass blocks spray of stationary head

Change head to pop-up. Fill dangerous hole around it with soil; seed with grass

If spray still hits grass, dig out lawn and add a 1/2-inch or 1-inch riser extension

Photo: Head doesn't spray enough lawn area

Change head to wider-angle pop-up to cover more lawn and clear height of grass

Photo: Clogged sprinkler sprays erratically

Run knife blade through slit. If it doesn't clear, remove head and clean or replace it

Photo: Brand-new head sprays erratically

Remove nozzle with wrench, turn on the system, and flush dirt from line

Photo: Quick fixes for shrub sprinklers: extend spray over tall plants by adding coupling and another riser. Unscrew nozzle and clean filter if it's dirty
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:how to solve the sprinkler problems
Date:Jun 1, 1986
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